Roughly 28 months after being arrested on charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan walked out of the Lucknow district jail on Thursday morning. After being released, Mr. Kappan expressed his full faith in the judicial process and pleaded innocence while calling the UAPA political tool.
“I have full faith in the judicial process, truth will come out, I am innocent to the core, feeling very happy after being released after 28 months in prison,” the journalist said. His prolonged custody attracted global attention and is often noted as a marker of India’s declining press freedom.
Mr. Kappan, 43, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police while he was travelling to Hathras, where a Dalit woman died after allegedly being raped. The U.P. Police charged him with Section 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc.) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Later, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) charged Mr. Kappan under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Terming these charges as totally false and baseless, Mr. Kappan claimed he had gone to Hathras while performing his journalistic duty. “These are totally false and baseless allegations. I am a journalist for last 11 years in New Delhi. I had gone to do reporting in Hathras, which was my duty,” he said. “These are dark times not only for the press freedom but also for Indian democracy.”
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The Supreme Court on September 9, 2022 granted bail to Mr. Kappan in the UAPA case, stating that “every citizen has the right to free expression”, and observing that the journalist was eligible for bail based on the length of custody undergone and the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case.
It took more than three months to complete the verification of bail sureties in U.P. after the apex court’s decision in the UAPA case. The SC, while granting bail to Mr. Kappan, had said the Lucknow court hearing the UAPA matter could decide the conditions of bail. On December 23, he was granted bail by the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court in the PMLA case.
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Mr. Kappan originally hails from Malappuram in Kerala and worked as a reporter for the Malayalam news website, Azhimukham. He held the post of secretary in the Delhi Unit of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists.